Yesterday I made the case that natural gas is by far the best choice for a bridge fuel during the next few years while we continue to invent a cleaner energy future, after lamenting the fact of the solar industry’s current swoon. It is interesting to note that even though the economic foundation for widescale solar power adoption is shaky (propped up to a big degree by government subsidies) the solar story is still a bright on. Research into improving the efficiency and output of solar panels continues at a fast pace and it is likely that the price of panels will continue to fall in coming years. Even if natural gas is plentiful and cheaper than dirt, there are many reasons for the continued adoption of solar power for our increasingly electrified economic and transportation infrastructure.
Here are some recent stories that caught my eye:
At the University of Tokyo scientists have developed extremely thin solar cells – thinner than spider silk. Such cells, while not being as efficient as their crystalline brethren, could fins their way into many of our small modern day gadgets and sensors.
Other thin solar cell research ongoing at Rice and Tsinghua Universities has created a dye-sensitized solar cell that could theoretically be mass-produced at a fraction of the cost of current cells. This is great news, but the efficiency of these cells is quite low. High efficiency AND low cost is of course the “holy grail”.
Theoretically boosting the efficiency up to a whopping 40% is what is claimed in this recent article about Australian Scientist’s efforts to get more out of every photon. The article is a bit light on details which usually means it is a breakthrough that is years away from mass-production – if ever (in some cases).
The University of California at Berkeley is a bit better at describing their recent developments in an effort to boost the efficiency of solar cells. The key to their finding is that solar cells should emit light as easily as they absorb light in order to reach peak efficiency.
In the arena of coating plastic or glass with solar cell material, Heliatek in Germany has developed a new technique similar to the technique used to make OLED flat screen display panels. The panels, which could possibly be used to make tinted electricity-generating windows, are rather expensive but they think they can develop a market.
Twin Creeks Solar continues to steam ahead with their vapor deposition method of producing thin solar cells. Their equipment should lower the cost of manufacturing solar cells thus keeping downward pressure on the end-user price. Remember that you read about Twin Creeks solar previously here in the blog.
Japan continues to push hard into renewable energy in order to replace the power they lost after the earth-quake and Fukushima nuclear disaster. Maybe their increased demand will blunt the loss of subsidies out of Europe (at least a little). One of their projects includes a floating solar power plant. I know they do not have a lot of space on the islands, but a floating solar power plant seems to be begging for damage from wind and waves. Hopefully Japan will have better luck with their renewable investments than here in the U.S. It is interesting to note that the U.S. now leads the world in renewable energy investments, but I wonder if we lead in renewable energy installation or even production in recent years due to the bankruptcy of several major government sponsored projects to the tune of billions of dollars.
In a not so revolutionary but still interesting development, Naked Energy of the UK plans to offer a combined solar power and solar water heating device. Heating water with solar power is one of the projects I have been interested in for my own house.
Taken all together, there is certainly still some progress in the solar industry, even as the government funding dries up.
Have a nice Thursday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.